Diane Dimond: The great bathroom debate: What are we all so afraid of?
This, too, shall pass from the headlines in time, but while the issue of who can legally use what public bathroom is still red-hot, here are some thoughts.
We are a nation of almost 320 million people. Statistics are not plentiful. There are no national figures kept, but it’s estimated the number of transgendered Americans is about 700,000, or 0.3 percent of the population.
Since the biggest controversy these days seems focused on transgender students and what might happen in their school bathrooms or locker rooms, perhaps the best statistic to focus upon comes from a 2014 survey of millennials by the Public Religion Research Institute. That survey found 1 percent of young people identify as transgender.
The point here is that it’s a relatively small number of people, considering the population as a whole. But this is not to say the needs of a minority group should be ignored. Not at all.
Without so much as one troubling school incident being reported, concerned citizens and lawmakers in more than two dozen states jumped to propose new laws mandating public bathrooms be used only according to a person’s sex assigned at birth. President Obama went the other direction and issued a directive that all public schools must allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice. The Justice Department and North Carolina traded lawsuits over the issue. Then 11 states joined together to sue the administration for conspiring to turn schools “into laboratories for a massive social experiment.”
Can we all just take a breath here?
Remember, for a moment, what it was like when you were a teen.
Adolescent angst revolved around pimples, proms, driver’s licenses, whether you looked fat in what you were wearing and whether the person you liked liked you back. It’s not much different today.
But imagine if you were a kid who never felt right in your own body, struggling to understand why every fiber of your being wants to let your hair grow, to wear a dress and heels to the school dance instead of a tuxedo. I would imagine the inner turmoil alone would keep that teen in self-check to the point that going into a shared bathroom would evoke secrecy, not aggressive behavior.
“There is probably no meeker creature on earth than a newly transitioned woman,” wrote Meredith Russo, a transgendered woman in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Russo penned a recent op-ed explaining how her former employer forced her to use the men’s room (because she hadn’t had “the surgery” yet) and how the intimidating glares from male co-workers made her feel. She stopped drinking water at work, tried not to visit the toilet at all. The workplace became excruciating.
This social experiment has been underway for decades.
Russo represents the majority of transgender Americans. The Census Bureau has estimated that some 65 percent of transgender people were born male but identify as female. Addressing the worry that a transgender adult might sneak in a public bathroom and cause harm, Russo wrote, “The main thing I wish the supporters of these (restrictive) laws would realize: We are much more frightened of you than you are of us.”
One gets the idea, reading Russo’s words, that transgender women are not preening, strutting peacocks but more like scared sparrows ready to flee in a flash.
Russo’s comments make me wonder: After the momentary shock of realizing the person in front of you has voluntarily changed their gender identity, what is it some of us are so afraid of? A person born female who decides they are more comfortable living life as a man is a threat because … why exactly? Or is our fear really focused on those born male who transition to female and choose not to remove their male genitalia?
Ponder that a moment.
The fear and concern being expressed today is likely rooted in ignorance about sexual orientation. Those struggling to make a new life for themselves seem unlikely to add to their burden by being aggressive with others — in or out of a public bathroom.
The media have certainly kept the raging debate front and center, but there has been a lack of real dialogue. Filing lawsuits or clamoring for new laws isn’t going to make anyone safer. Issuing a presidential proclamation doesn’t help fix the situation. In fact, it could create a divisiveness that makes confrontation more likely.
What we need is a meaningful conversation in this country about tolerance and personal choice, sexual orientation and what that really means. Every citizen should feel free to pursue happiness on his or her own terms.